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Services link homeless job seekers, phones


You’ve lost your job and you’re not able to pay your bills.

Your phone service is cut off.

You see a job advertised in the paper and inquire about it. The human resources office looks over your résumé.

“You don’t have a phone number. You don’t have a permanent address. How do you find a job when you don’t have those things?” 33-year-old Kimberlie Morris of Spotsylvania County said.

For 18 months in 2003 and 2004, she and her husband, 40-year-old Brian Morris, were living in their car, trying to find their way out of a seemingly bottomless pit. Things had spiraled downward when Brian Morris got out of the Navy and couldn’t find work right away, they said.

Not having a phone creates a quandary that often makes it difficult for people to find employment, says Deborah Warf, workforce services manager at the Virginia Employment Commission’s Fredericksburg office at 10304 Spotsylvania Ave.

“It can be quite an issue,” Warf said, for homeless people and for those who have a place to live but can’t afford a landline or cellphone.

Warf said job-seekers may make or receive calls in the VEC office and that the same people do day after day. But it’s far from an ideal situation.

She said the office has application forms for Virgin Mobile Assurance Wireless, which offers free phones and limited free phone service to those who meet certain criteria, including low income and participation in the school lunch program or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), among others.

She said Assurance Wireless seems to be the best service. The problem for the homeless is that they must have a place where the phones can be mailed. She said some clients have them mailed to the Thurman Brisben Center, a local shelter, or to Micah Ministries.

Mailboxes with street addresses may also be rented relatively inexpensively at places such as UPS, and they also help in finding employment, because some employers are skittish about post office boxes, Kimberly Morris said.

Jack Pflanz, a spokesman for Assurance Wireless, said it’s now offering a Free Talk and Text plan and a $5 Talk and Text plan for eligible low-income residents in addition to the existing offer of 250 free minutes.

He said being able to send and receive texts also helps those in need find and keep jobs. The plan includes a free cellphone, 250 free text messages and 250 minutes of free monthly voice service to those who are eligible.

The $5 Talk and Text Plan includes a free cellphone, 500 text messages and 500 voice minutes. Assurance Wireless customers will also have the option of obtaining 1,000 total voice minutes and 1,000 text messages for $20 per month. If the customer cannot make a payment, he doesn’t lose service; it reverts to the basic 250 free minutes. Assurance Wireless phones operate on the Sprint network.

Assurance Wireless is a Lifeline Assistance program supported by the federal Universal Service Fund, created by the FCC in 1997 to meet goals set by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to make basic phone service available to the poor at affordable rates.

Pflanz said 912,926 Virginia residents are eligible based on participation in SNAP.

When they were living in their car, Kimberlie Morris made some money at craft shows, selling items she made, but Brian often was stopped cold in his job search when he had to ask employers if they would interview him on the spot because of his circumstances.

“Finally, a guy at a fast-food place was really nice and hired Brian on the spot,” she said.

Once Brian had a job, the couple found a landlord willing to let them move in and pay their deposit over time.

Michael Zitz: 540/846-5163